County refines grievance procedures despite concerns

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – Changing one word made changes in the county’s employee grievance procedure acceptable to almost all of the County Board Tuesday.

The ordinance is a further attempt by the county to refine it’s grievance process in the wake of changes made to public employee relations by 2011’s Act 10.

The previous procedure made the full County Board the final arbiter of grievances.

That led to a marathon board session last January as the supervisors heard testimony in closed session and decided in favor of a Sheriff’s Department employee in a grievance matter.

Supervisor Jim Baumgart led the charge against the proposed change, which will give the Human Resources Committee along with the County Board chair and vice-chair the final decision in grievance matters rather than the full board.

“If I was a county employee under this system I would be fearful of my job,” Baumgart stated. “This process is a travesty of good policy. This is like going before the hanging judge of the west. You went in there knowing you were going to get hung.”

“I respectfully disagree with Supervisor Baumgart,” Supervisor Greg Weggeman responded. “His analogy is way overdone. This is going to be a lot better than what we went through a couple of months ago.”

Baumgart conceded that the three-to-four hour procedure before the board last January was not ideal but added, “There could be a better way, but this is not the way.”

“As distasteful as that process was and how much time we spent, I still think it was better than what you’re putting forward here,” Supervisor Brian Hoffmann agreed.

“County employees are being judged by supervisors who are county employees. I don’t see how the hell that can be fair,” Hoffmann added.

Baumgart originally listed County Administrator Adam Payne among those who would make the final decision under the new ordinance and said the Human Resources Committee reviews and rules on grievances before they come to a mediator or the full board.

Supervisor Devin LeMahieu, a member of the Human Resources Committee, responded that Payne was not part of the final group under the new plan and that the Human Resources Committee had not reviewed or ruled on the grievance that came to the board last January before the board acted on it.

“We’ve been through this process once and I don’t believe we understood what our duty was,” Supervisor Tom Epping commented. “I have yet to hear any alternatives. If you say you don’t like something, say what’s better.”

“It’s not perfect,” Payne conceded of the proposed change. “But though it may not be perfect, we’ve got a pretty good organization here and pretty good department heads, so I’d encourage your support.”

“I have full faith that our department heads and Human Resources director can be fair,” LeMahieu stated.

Corporation Counsel Carl Buesing added that the county is limited by state law – specifically Act 10 – on how it can set up the grievance process.

One concern raised by several supervisors was the step in the process of seeking impartial mediation. In the case that came before the board in January, the mediator was the personnel director of Ozaukee County, which several supervisors felt was unfair.

The proposed ordinance stated that the Human Resources director “may select” an impartial hearing examiner, such as a retired judge, attorney mediator, “or similar person who has the ability to be impartial.”

Supervisor Charles Conrardy then moved to change the word “may” to “shall” and that amendment passed by a vote of 21-4, with Epping, LeMahieu, Roger TeStroete and Mark Winkel voting no.

The amended ordinance then passed by a vote of 24-1, with Baumgart casting the lone no vote.


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